Success Stories: Anmol Soin’s journey from Ludhiana to Oxford University

Hi Anmol. Give us a brief introduction about yourself and what have you done so far?

As you know, my name is Anmol. I am 26 years old, from Ludhiana.I did my under graduation from Xaviers, Mumbai, Bachelor’s in Economics. And for my Post Graduation, I decided to apply abroad. At first I had no inclination of going abroad to study. But the thing is, either you go to top universities in India or you go abroad. I got into a couple of colleges and contrary to popular opinion of my friends and family, I took up St. Andrews because I liked the course and the curriculum. I did International Strategy and Economics there. Later I got to know about a scholarship in Oxford, applied there and got through a course in Diplomacy. Post which, I applied for jobs and I attended the interviews, but there were visa related issues and I realised it was better to come back to India and hence I am back here.

How was it once you got back to India?

I came back and there is something called KPP, The Knowledge Partnership Program (IPE Global and UK Government’s Department for International Development). This is the first internship I did. I was also briefly engaged with Observer Research Foundation and Centre for Public Policy Research for specialized projects. When you are back, people start recognising you for the college you passed out of. Everyone knows Oxford, hence there is a sense of trust when they hire you. For example, IITs, IIMs are extremely difficult to get into, in India. It is probably better than getting into MIT. And you might be smarter than everybody and you probably worked harder to get into these colleges. I keep telling people this, right, it is nothing special that I got into Oxford. But if with an Indian education, they go abroad, people might now know the value. As far as Global Education is concerned, if I say I went to MIT or Harvard, everyone everywhere has heard about it and they recognise you.

Tell us about your time at St.Andrews

St. Andrews was in a very quaint, quiet little premium town. You have these Scottish beaches in the North and on the other side you have these sprawling golf courses, some of the best in the world and on the extreme outskirts, you have the Scottish Mountains.The place where the college was situated was beautiful and so was the campus. It is not a happening place like your Manchesters or Lanchesters. Ofcourse, the highest number of students were British, and the second was Americans. But there were a lot of students from the European countries as well. It was quite a well established college. So this basically provided a very student oriented culture and it is a very fine place where you meet very different people. It is a small town with people from some of the biggest towns of the world.

This might sound very elitist, but it is not… I did not want to go to a University which had a lot of people from the subcontinent. That is because, in some of the other Universities, you get type-casted quite easily. And you know, what I liked about St.Andrews was that, there was no Chinese group or an American group or an Indian group. We were 30-40 people there and nationality never came between any of us. See, we did celebrate Indian festivals with Indians, when the occasion arose, but Nationality was never a limiting factor. In a lot of other colleges, students move around only with people from their own country and I was sure that I didn’t want to be in a place like that. I stayed with 2 Scots and an American, we all used to help each other out and coexist with all the cultural differences too. When I come back here, I see a lot of my Delhi friends being biased towards Africans and it bothers me.

What did you do there for entertainment, considering it was a small town.

So honestly, their favourite national pastime is binge drinking. You know, I am going to be honest with you. When everyone used to start drinking , there would be students discussing philosophy for hours. What I learnt by just listening to them and later going back and looking it up taught me so much about philosophy. You are just surrounded by some of the smartest students in the world, there is no way you cannot get better.

What in your opinion do you think is the difference between this University and studying in India

The biggest advantage of going to an International University is, you are not limited by your own curriculum. If you go to a college in India , there are students from either State board, CBSE or ICSE. We have all been taught more or less the same things.. Here things were different. When you listen to the British version of Indian Independence , the Indian version of Indian Independence and the Pakistani version of Indian Independence, you feel like you don’t know a lot about what you already know! It opens your mind and horizons and forces you to think in other perspectives as well.

Could you tell us a little bit about your time at Oxford

See, when I was in Ludhiana, going to Xaviers was an intimidating process. It helped me considerably because I moved out of home and was out in Bombay. Then I moved to St. Andrews and it was the same process all over again, where initially I was very intimidated and had no idea what I was going to do. Then came Oxford. Oh my, Oxford was another beautiful experience. Teachers teach you and just listening to them is such a mind-opening process. We were categorically told that you do not have to get books to class. We will give you material, so that you do not have to go through 5 books for the same thing. Just come to class, lets talk about it. There was this Professor, he was teaching me American Political Influence, and you know, he would have a perspective, ask our perspective and analyse that along with the ramifications of the same. In a class of 28 ppl around the world, everybody has a different opinion! Your perspectives just broadens out. And after class on the other hand, if you have a doubt and you want to ask the Professor, he would invite you out for a drink and after that, I had to drop him back home after he was wasted… In India you do not imagine doing all this, right. Imagine, it felt like I was carrying back some hostel guy of mine…

So everybody was quite chill, in general. The faculty would go for a 5 minute smoke break after class and might be late for the next class, and he would say it. Though there is nothing great about smoking, the point here is that there is a comfort in saying what you are doing and nobody has to lie about the Chotta chotta things. People believe you since everybody is inherently open about everything and you don’t have to second guess what anyone is saying. In India, if you were late to class, teacher would ask a hundred questions, probably marked you absent. Here no one tells you all that and despite, my attendance in Oxford was way better than any other place, because they make you legitimately want to come to class. Because here you are liable for your own actions. When you have paid so much money to study there, you need a basic level of responsibility to attend classes.

What do you think is the difference between studying in this University and studying in India?

The biggest difference is, there are only 7-8 hours a week. Which means, on an average, not more than 2 hours a day. Which means, what you have been taught, you need to go and prepare on it. So they encourage you to research and dig deeper into the subject. Whether it is essays, presentations, examination, if you are not reading a lot, you cannot crack them. In my viva once, some really petty question was asked from the last two pages of the last book I read. If I did not read that, I wouldn’t have been able to answer the question.. The fact that they give you time to read after they teach is fantastic. That is why UK has a categorical difference between Taught Programs and Research Programs.

Did you face any difficulties during your time abroad? What were they?

First of all you have to go there, you have to find an accommodation, set everything up for yourself, make sure you take care of your health, you have to tend to yourself. There is no one else who is going to take care of you. A very typical Indian Middle class mentality is ‘Tu padte raho, baaki sab sambaljayenga’. If you are studying, nothing else mattered to parents.. there would be food, the laundry is done for you, your bed would be made up, everything was in place for you and you only had to study. In Indian hostels, I can’t speak for girls, but men are pretty lazy. We never learnt to take care of ourselves. We would pay thirty rupees so that someone will come and clean our room once in a while. But when you are abroad, you have to take care of yourself. There is no other go. You have to learn to get disciplined and study at the same time.

How was your experience with food abroad?

Yaar, a lot of people have a problem with the food when they move. I don’t understand it. Why would someone want Indian food all the time and Indian people all the time when they are not in India in the first place. You get all kinds of food here; there is a huge variety; American food, Mexican food, Chinese food, everything. When you have the best of so many cuisines available, why would you want Indian food day in and day out. So I enjoyed the experience. I was pretty open minded about it.

What did you most miss about India?

Family. Friends. My dad used to wake me up at 6.30 if I had an exam, in Mumbai. Now I cannot expect him to wake me up when it is the middle of the night for him. You start to understand that timezones are different and you try getting adjusted to it. Also, you are spoilt, when in India. Even when I was in Xaviers, I had a lavish, lavish, lavish life. I never had money after the 20th but I knew I could get it. Here it is not like that. You budget everything and make sure you are not wasting too much money.

Do you think that studying abroad has changed you as a person? How?

I think I learnt to take care of myself. Became much more responsible and self sufficient. I also learnt Networking. How to talk to people and build contacts is something I picked up when abroad and it is being of use now. I also learnt to look into things from multiple perspectives. There is not just one side to everything and I have internalised it post my education abroad

Now tell us what you have been doing since you moved back to India

Post KPP and the other research jobs, I joined the Government of India’s Fourteenth Finance Commission briefly. At one point of time, I had over four jobs. I used to be offsite, research for a few companies. Essentially I didn’t have to leave home and I could work. Later, I joined PwC to consult on Financial Services and Inclusive Markets

I also taught ‘The Economics of International Relations and Geopolitics’ in NMIMS for the final year undergrads. A friend of mine who is younger than me was just telling me about how they didn’t have a professor and I just applied. I didn’t tell him that I applied and I got the job. When I walked into the class, he was pretty shocked. I walked into the classroom and casually said said ‘Hi guys’. His pupils were dilating. It felt good, yeah.

I used to fly from Delhi to Mumbai to take the classes. So later I convinced the college that I would fly Friday, Saturday, Sunday to teach and was worried if the students would hate me. So Monday to Thursday I used to work in Delhi. Friday I would fly to Mumbai and I was one of the faculty who was given the highest ratings. That is because I incorporated the ways in which I was taught abroad and the students definitely loved it.

During this time, there was this day when I was sitting down and reading a bunch of newspapers for my jobs and I realised that there were no perspectives in the way the articles were covered in these papers.

Along with a friend of mine around the same time, I started an initiative called Initiative for Policy Research in India. We started writing on topics that interested us and now we have several writers across Libya, Ghana, Pakistan, Thailand virtually creating a network across the world to cater to international articles and audiences too. The team consists of young academics and journalists from across 15 countries and virtually everyone has given a Ted speech, barring me. If you look at the first page, there are a lot of articles that do not get spoken about in our country. The content has advanced research on economics, development, financial markets and international trade. We are currently being read in over 130 countries.

I have been on a Times Now debate with Arnab Goswami, because I created this space for quasi-global geo-political news from around the world which got quickly recognised. I can’t call it a start up, it is not a money making machine. It is an interest.

Am pretty happy with what I am doing, back in India.

Would you like to give any advice to aspirants who would like to Study Abroad?

A lot of students are worried about their English. They are concerned about the way they speak English when they want to apply abroad. A lot of people in our country judge people if someone doesn’t speak good English. If you go to international universities, you will realise that we are lucky as Indians to have had English as a language that was taught. There are Germans, French and people from such diverse cultures who absolutely do not know English. Even if Indians speak broken English, the foreigners understand that better than an American or an Australian accent. English is very rarely strong within the international students. If you are making sense, you are making sense. Nobody expects you to understand every language. We already know several other languages. So nobody needs to be conscious about their English.